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The Chernobyl disastermarker triggered the release of substantial amounts of radiation into the atmosphere in the form of both particle and gaseous radioisotopes, and is the most significant unintentional release of radiation into the environment to date. The Chernobyl disaster released as much as 400 times the radioactive contamination of the Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The effects of this release of radioisotopes are the subject of substantial study, and the full effect of the radiation will not be understood for some time. Ukrainemarker, Belarusmarker and Russia were affected by the radioactive contamination due to the radioactive cloud, as were countries of western Europe. Because the magnitude of the effects from Chernobyl affect policy decisions about the future use of nuclear power and because determining the cause of cancer and other health effects due to low dose radiation across Europe is a difficult epidemiological problem, the effects of the disaster are controversial.

Dose to the general public within 30 km of the plant

The inhalation dose (internal dose) for the public (during the time between the accident occurring and their evacuation from the area) in what is now the 30 km evacuation zone around the plant has been estimated (based ground deposition of 137Cs) to be between 3 and 150 mSv {between a 1 in 6666.67 and a 1 in 133.33 chance of a fatal cancer assuming the ICRP risk factor of a 5% of a fatal cancer per Sv of exposure} for adults (depending on the distance from the reactor and the day of evacuation) and for one year old children a dose estimate of between 10 and 700 mSv {between a 1 in 2000 and a 1 in 28.57 chance of fatal cancer} has been made. Thyroid doses for adults were between 20 and 1000 mSv, while for the one year old infants these were higher at 20 to 6000 mSv. For those who left at an early stage in the accident the internal dose due to inhalation was 8 to 13 times higher than the external dose due to gamma/beta emitters. For those who remained until later (day 10 or later) the inhalation dose was 50 to 70% higher than the dose due to external exposure. The majority of the dose was due to 131I (circa 40%), tellurium and rubidium isotopes (circa 20 to 30% for Rb and Te).

The ingestion doses in this same group of people have also been estimated using the caesium activity per unit of area, isotope ratios, average day of evacuation, intake rate of milk and green vegetables and what is known about the transfer of radioactivity via plants/animals to humans. For adults the dose has been estimated to be between 3 and 180 mSv while for the one year old infants a dose of between 20 and 1300 mSv has been estimated. Again the majority of the dose was due to 131I and the external dose was much smaller than the internal dose due to the radioactivity in the diet.

Short-term health effects and immediate results

The explosion at the power station and subsequent fires inside the remains of the reactor provoked a radioactive cloud which drifted not only over Russia, Belarusmarker and Ukrainemarker, but also over the European part of Turkeymarker, Greece, Moldovamarker, Romaniamarker, Bulgariamarker, Lithuaniamarker, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Austria, Hungarymarker, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republicmarker, Sloveniamarker, Croatiamarker, Poland, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Ireland, France (including Corsicamarker), Canada and the United Kingdom (UK). In fact, the initial evidence in other countries that a major exhaust of radioactive material had occurred came not from Soviet sources, but from Sweden, where on April 27 workers at the Forsmark Nuclear Power Plantmarker (approximately 1100 km from the Chernobyl site) were found to have radioactive particles on their clothes. It was Sweden's search for the source of radioactivity, after they had determined there was no leak at the Swedish plant, that led to the first hint of a serious nuclear problem in the Western Soviet Union. In France, the government then claimed that the radioactive cloud had stopped at the Italian border. Therefore, while some kinds of food (mushrooms in particular) were prohibited in Italy because of radioactivity, the French authorities took no such measures, in an attempt to appease the population's fears (see below).

Contamination from the Chernobyl disaster was not evenly spread across the surrounding countryside, but scattered irregularly depending on weather conditions. Reports from Soviet and Western scientists indicate that Belarusmarker received about 60% of the contamination that fell on the former Soviet Union. A large area in Russia south of Bryanskmarker was also contaminated, as were parts of northwestern Ukrainemarker.

203 people were hospitalized immediately, of whom 31 died (28 of them died from acute radiation exposure). Most of these were fire and rescue workers trying to bring the disaster under control, who were not fully aware of how dangerous the radiation exposure (from the smoke) was (for a discussion of the more important isotopes in fallout see fission products). 135,000 people were evacuated from the area, including 50,000 from the nearby town of Pripyat, Ukrainemarker. Health officials have predicted that over the next 70 years there will be a 2% increase in cancer rates in much of the population which was exposed to the 5-12 (depending on source) EBq of radioactive contamination released from the reactor. An additional 10 individuals have already died of cancer as a result of the disaster.

Sovietmarker scientists reported that the Chernobyl Unit 4 reactor contained about 180-190 metric tons of uranium dioxide fuel and fission products. Estimates of the amount of this material that escaped range from 5 to 30 percent, but some liquidators, who have actually been inside the sarcophagus and the reactor shell itself — e.g. Mr. Usatenko and Dr. Karpan — state that not more than 5-10% of the fuel remains inside; indeed, photographs of the reactor shell show that it is completely empty. Because of the intense heat of the fire, much of the ejected fuel was lofted high into the atmosphere (with no containment building to stop it), where it spread.

Workers and liquidators

Soviet badge awarded to 600,000+ liquidators.

The workers involved in the recovery and cleanup after the disaster, called "liquidators", received high doses of radiation. In most cases, these workers were not equipped with individual dosimeters to measure the amount of radiation received, so experts can only estimate their doses. Even where dosimeters were used, dosimetric procedures varied. Some workers are thought to have been given more accurate estimated doses than others. According to Soviet estimates, between 300,000 and 600,000 people were involved in the cleanup of the 30 km evacuation zonemarker around the reactor, but many of them entered the zone two years after the disaster. Estimates of the number of "liquidators" vary; the World Health Organization, for example, puts the figure at about 800,000; Russia lists as liquidators some people who did not work in contaminated areas. In the first year after the disaster, the number of cleanup workers in the zone was estimated to be 211,000, and these workers received an estimated average dose of 165 millisieverts (16.5 rem).The plume of radioactive debris has been said to be equal to the contamination of 400 Hiroshima bombs. This is correct, but misleading. The main effect of the bomb was the direct radiation from the gamma blast. Compared to that, the contamination was only a minor addition. Furthermore the comparison to bomb fallout is very misleading, as an atomic bomb has a very different isotope signature to a power reactor. In bomb fallout plenty of the very short-lived isotopes are present while the activity in used power reactor fuel tends have a medium to long half-life. The time required for the dose rate to decline by a factor of 10 in an area covered with fallout from an atomic bomb which has detonated an hour ago is much shorter than the time required for the same reduction in dose rate due to Chernobyl fallout (one hour after the reactor suffered the steam explosion). A sevenfold increase in DNA mutations has been identified in liquidators' children conceived after the accident, when compared to their siblings conceived before. However, the effect diminishes sharply with time.


Map showing Caesium-137 contamination in the Chernobyl area as of 1996

Soviet authorities started evacuating people from the area around Chernobyl only on the second day after the disaster (after 36 hours).By May 1986, about a month later, all those living within a 30 km (18 mile) radius of the plant — about 116,000 people — had been relocated. This area is often referred to as the zone of alienationmarker. However, radiation affected the area in a much wider scale than this 30 km radius.

According to reports from Soviet scientists, 28,000 km² (10,800 mi²) were contaminated by caesium-137 to levels greater than 185 kBq/m². Roughly 830,000 people lived in this area. About 10,500 km ² (4,000 mi²) were contaminated by caesium-137 to levels greater than 555 kBq/m². Of this total, roughly 7,000 km² (2,700 mi²) lie in Belarus, 2,000 km² (800 mi²) in the Russian Federation and 1,500 km² (580 mi²) in Ukraine. About 250,000 people lived in this area. These reported data were corroborated by the International Chernobyl Project.


Some children in the contaminated areas were exposed to high radiation doses of up to 50 grays (Gy) because of an intake of radioactive iodine-131, a relatively short-lived isotope with a half-life of 8 days, from contaminated milk produced locally. Several studies have found that the incidence of thyroid cancer among children in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia has risen sharply. The IAEAmarker notes "1800 documented cases of thyroid cancer in children who were between 0 and 14 years of age when the disaster occurred, which is as far higher than normal", but fails to note the expected rate. The childhood thyroid cancers that have appeared are of a large and aggressive type but, if detected early, can be treated. Treatment entails surgery followed by iodine-131 therapy for any metastases. To date, such treatment appears to have been successful in the vast majority of cases.

Late in 1995, the World Health Organisation (WHO) linked nearly 700 cases of thyroid cancer among children and adolescents to the Chernobyl disaster, and among these some 10 deaths are attributed to radiation. However, the rapid increase in thyroid cancers detected suggests that some of it at least is an artifact of the screening process. Typical latency time of radiation-induced thyroid cancer is about 10 years, but the increase in childhood thyroid cancers in some regions was observed as early as 1987. Presumably either the increase is unrelated to the disaster or the mechanisms behind it are not well understood.

So far, no increase in leukemia is discernible, but this is expected to be evident in the next few years along with a greater, though not statistically discernible, incidence of other cancers. There has been no substantiated increase attributable to Chernobyl in congenital abnormalities, adverse pregnancy outcomes or any other radiation-induced disease in the general population, either in the contaminated areas or further afield.

This is contradicted by documentary " The Battle of Chernobyl", which relates how much information has either not been gathered, or covered up. Congenital deformities and increased risk of cancer was documented, but difficult to affirm due to the lack of proper research.

Plant and animal health

A large swath of pine forest killed by acute radiation was named the Red Forestmarker. The dead pines were bulldozed and buried. Livestock were removed during the human evacuations. Elsewhere in Europe, levels of radiation were examined in various natural foodstocks. In both Sweden and Finland, fish in deep freshwater lakes were banned for resale and landowners were advised not to consume certain types. Information regarding physical deformities in the plant and animal populations in the areas affected by radioactive fallout require capture and DNA testing of individuals to determine if abnormalities are the result of natural mutation, radiation poisoning, or exposure to other contaminants in the environment such as pesticides, industrial waste, or agricultural run-off.

Long-term health effects

Science and politics: the problem of epidemiological studies

The issue of long-term effects of the Chernobyl disaster on civilians is very controversial. The number of people whose lives were affected by the disaster is enormous. Over 300,000 people were resettled because of the disaster; millions lived and continue to live in the contaminated area. On the other hand, most of those affected received relatively low doses of radiation; there is little evidence of increased mortality, cancers or birth defects among them; and when such evidence is present, existence of a causal link to radioactive contamination is uncertain.

An increased incidence of thyroid cancer among children in areas of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia affected by the Chernobyl disaster has been firmly established as a result of screening programs and, in the case of Belarus, an established cancer registry. The findings of most epidemiological studies must be considered interim, say experts, as analysis of the health effects of the disaster is an ongoing process.

Epidemiological studies have been hampered in the former Soviet Union by a lack of funds, an infrastructure with little or no experience in chronic disease epidemiology, poor communication facilities and an immediate public health problem with many dimensions. Emphasis has been placed on screening rather than on well-designed epidemiological studies. International efforts to organize epidemiological studies have been slowed by some of the same factors, especially the lack of a suitable scientific infrastructure. Furthermore, the political nature of nuclear energy may have affected scientific studies. In Belarus, Yury Bandazhevsky, a scientist who questioned the official estimates of Chernobyl's consequences and the relevancy of the official maximum limit of 1,000 Bq/kg, was imprisoned from 2001 to 2005. Bandazhevsky and some human rights groups allege his imprisonment was a reprisal for his publication of reports critical of the official research being conducted into the Chernobyl incident.

The activities undertaken by Belarus and Ukraine in response to the disaster — remediation of the environment, evacuation and resettlement, development of uncontaminated food sources and food distribution channels, and public health measures — have overburdened the governments of those countries. International agencies and foreign governments have provided extensive logistic and humanitarian assistance. In addition, the work of the European Commissionmarker and World Health Organization in strengthening the epidemiological research infrastructure in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus is laying the basis for major advances in these countries' ability to carry out epidemiological studies of all kinds.

Caesium radioisotopes

Immediately after the disaster, the main health concern involved radioactive iodine, with a half-life of eight days. Today, there is concern about contamination of the soil with strontium-90 and caesium-137, which have half-lives of about 30 years. The highest levels of caesium-137 are found in the surface layers of the soil where they are absorbed by plants, insects and mushrooms, entering the local food supply. Some scientists fear that radioactivity will affect the local population for the next several generations. Note that caesium is not mobile in most soils because it binds to the clay minerals. Recent tests (ca. 1997) have shown that caesium-137 levels in trees of the area are continuing to rise. There is some evidence that contamination is migrating into underground aquifers and closed bodies of water such as lakes and ponds (2001, Germenchuk). The main source of elimination is predicted to be natural decay of caesium-137 to stable barium-137, since runoff by rain and groundwater has been demonstrated to be negligible..

Food restrictions

Twenty two years after the catastrophe, restriction orders remain in place in the production, transportation and consumption of food contaminated by Chernobyl fallout. In the UK, they remain in place on 369 farms covering 750 km² and 200,000 sheep. In parts of Sweden and Finland, restrictions are in place on stock animals, including reindeer, in natural and near-natural environments. "In certain regions of Germany, Austria, Italy, Sweden, Finland, Lithuania and Poland, wild game (including boar and deer), wild mushrooms, berries and carnivorous fish from lakes reach levels of several thousand Bq per kg of caesium-137", while "in Germany, caesium-137 levels in wild boar muscle reached 40,000 Bq/kg. The average level is 6,800 Bq/kg, more than ten times the EU limit of 600 Bq/kg", according to the TORCH 2006 report. The European Commission has stated that "The restrictions on certain foodstuffs from certain Member States must therefore continue to be maintained for many years to come".

As of 2009, sheep farmed in some areas of the UK are still subject to inspection which may lead to them being prohibited from entering the human food chain because of contamination arising from the accident:

"Some of this radioactivity, predominantly radiocaesium-137, was deposited on certain upland areas of the UK, where sheep-farming is the primary land-use.
Due to the particular chemical and physical properties of the peaty soil types present in these upland areas, the radiocaesium is still able to pass easily from soil to grass and hence accumulate in sheep.
A maximum limit of 1,000 becquerels per kilogramme (Bq/kg) of radiocaesium is applied to sheep meat affected by the accident to protect consumers.
This limit was introduced in the UK in 1986, based on advice from the European Commission's Article 31 group of experts.
Under power provided under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 (FEPA), Emergency Orders have been used since 1986 to impose restrictions on the movement and sale of sheep exceeding the limit in certain parts of Cumbriamarker, North Walesmarker, Scotland and Northern Irelandmarker...
When the Emergency Orders were introduced in 1986, the Restricted Areas were large, covering almost 9,000 farms, and over 4 million sheep.
Since 1986, the areas covered by restrictions have dramatically decreased and now cover 369 farms, or part farms, and around 200,000 sheep.
This represents a reduction of over 95% since 1986, with only limited areas of Cumbria, South Western Scotland and North Wales, covered by restrictions.

369 farms and 190,000 sheep are still affected, a reduction of 95% since 1986.

In Norway, the Sami people were affected by contaminated food (the reindeer had been contaminated by eating lichen, which are very sensitive to radioactivity).

Effect on the natural world

The major plume of radiation released by the Chernobyl Nuclear Accident was carried directly over what is now called the Red Forest.
Radioactive particles settled on trees, killing areas of pine forest.

According to reports from Soviet scientists at the First International Conference on the Biological and Radiological Aspects of the Chernobyl Accident (September 1990), fallout levels in the 10 km zone around the plant were as high as 4.81 GBq/m². The so-called "Red Forestmarker" of pine trees, previously known as Worm Wood Forest and located immediately behind the reactor complex, lay within the 10 km zone and was killed off by heavy radioactive fallout. The forest is so named because in the days following the disaster the trees appeared to have a deep red hue as they died due to extremely heavy radioactive fallout. In the post-disaster cleanup operations, a majority of the 4 km² forest was bulldozed and buried. The site of the Red Forestmarker remains one of the most contaminated areas in the world.

In recent years there have been many reports suggesting the zone may be a fertile habitat for wildlife. For example in the 1996 BBC Horizon documentary 'Inside Chernobyl's Sarcophagus', birds are seen flying in and out of large holes in the structure itself. Other casual observations suggest biodiversity around the massive radiation spill has increased due to the removal of human influence (see the first hand account of the wildlife preserve). Storks, wolves, beavers, and eagles have been reported in the area.

Barn swallows sampled between 1991 and 2006 both in the Chernobyl exclusion zone had more physical abnormalities than control sparrows sampled elsewhere in Europe. Abnormal barn swallows mated with lower frequency, causing the percentage of abnormal swallows to decrease over time. This demonstrated the evolution against the abnormalities was faster than the effects of radiation that created the abnormalities. "This was a big surprise to us," Dr. Mousseau said. "We had no idea of the impact."

It is unknown whether fallout contamination will have any long-term adverse effect on the flora and fauna of the region, as plants and animals have significantly different and varying radiologic tolerance compared with humans. Some birds are reported with stunted tail feathers (which interferes with breeding). There are reports of mutations in some plants in the area, leading to unsubstantiated tales of a "forest of wonders" containing many strangely mutated plants. Specifically, some trees have weirdly twisted branches that do not reach for the sky. The Chernobyl area has not received very much biological study, although studies that have been done suggest that apparently healthy populations may be sink instead of source populations; in other words, that the apparently healthy populations are not contributing to the survival of species.

Using robots, researchers have actually retrieved samples of highly-melanized black fungus from the walls of the reactor core itself. It has been shown that certain species of fungus, such as Cryptococcus neoformans and Cladosporium, can actually thrive in a radioactive environment, growing better than non-melanized variants, implying that they use melanin to harness the energy of ionizing radiation from the reactor.

The Chernobyl Forum report and criticisms

In September 2005, a comprehensive report was published by the Chernobyl Forum, comprising a number of agencies including the International Atomic Energy Agencymarker (IAEA), the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations bodies and the Governments of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine. This report titled: "Chernobyl's legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts", authored by about 100 recognized experts from many countries, put the total predicted number of deaths due to the disaster around 4,000 (of which 2,200 deaths are expected to be in the ranks of 200,000 liquidators). This predicted death toll includes the 47 workers who died of acute radiation syndrome as a direct result of radiation from the disaster, nine children who died from thyroid cancer and an estimated 4000 people who could die from cancer as a result of exposure to radiation. The report also stated that, apart from a 30 kilometre area around the site and a few restricted lakes and forests, radiation levels had returned to acceptable levels. For full coverage see the IAEA Focus Page

The methodology of the Chernobyl Forum report has been disputed by some advocacy organizations opposed to nuclear energy, such as Greenpeace and the International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear Warfare (IPPNW), as well as some individuals such as Elisabeth Cardis of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, Dr. Michel Fernex, retired medical doctor from the WHO and campaigner Dr. Christopher Busby (Green Audit, LLRC). The main criticism has been with regard to the restriction of the Forum's study to Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. Furthermore, it only studied the case of 200,000 people involved in the cleanup, and the 400,000 most directly affected by the released radiation. German Green Party Member of the European Parliament Rebecca Harms, commissioned a report on Chernobyl in 2006 (TORCH ,The Other Report on Chernobyl). The 2006 TORCH report claimed that:
"In terms of their surface areas, Belarus (22% of its land area) and Austria (13%) were most affected by higher levels of contamination.
Other countries were seriously affected; for example, more than 5% of Ukraine, Finland and Sweden were contaminated to high levels (> 40,000 Bq/m² caesium-137).
More than 80% of Moldova, the European part of Turkey, Slovenia, Switzerland, Austria and the Slovak Republic were contaminated to lower levels (> 4,000 Bq/m² caesium-137).
And 44% of Germany and 34% of the UK were similarly affected."
(See map of radioactive distribution of Caesium-137 in Europe)

While the IAEA/WHO and UNSCEAR considered areas with exposure greater than 40,000 Bq/m², the TORCH report also included areas contaminated with more than 4,000 Bq/m² of Cs-137.

The TORCH 2006 report "estimated that more than half the iodine-131 from Chernobyl [which increases the risk of thyroid cancer] was deposited outside the former Soviet Union. Possible increases in thyroid cancer have been reported in the Czech Republic and the UK, but more research is needed to evaluate thyroid cancer incidences in Western Europe". It predicted about 30,000 to 60,000 excess cancer deaths, 7 to 15 Times greater than the figure of 4,000 in the IAEA press release; warned that predictions of excess cancer deaths strongly depend on the risk factor used; and predicted excess cases of thyroid cancer range between 18,000 and 66,000 in Belarus alone depending on the risk projection model.

Another study claims possible heightened mortality in Sweden. Chernobyl 'caused Sweden cancers', BBC News, November 20, 2004

Greenpeace quoted a 1998 WHO study, which counted 212 dead from only 72,000 liquidators. The environmental NGO estimated a total death toll of 93,000 but cite in their report that “The most recently published figures indicate that in Belarus, Russia and the Ukraine alone the disaster could have resulted in an estimated 200,000 additional deaths in the period between 1990 and 2004.” In its report, Greenpeace suggested there will be 270,000 cases of cancer alone attributable to Chernobyl fallout, and that 93,000 of these will probably be fatal (compare with the IAEA 2005 report which claimed that "99% of thyroid cancers wouldn't be lethal". Blake Lee-Harwood, campaigns director at Greenpeace, declared that cancer was likely to be the cause of less than half of the final fatalities; "intestinal problems, heart and circulation problems, respiratory problems, endocrine problems, and particularly effects on the immune system," are also concerns. Lee-Harwood alleged that the nuclear industry had a "vested interest in playing down Chernobyl because it's an embarrassment to them". Responding to these criticisms, the WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl explained that "the Greenpeace report is looking at all of Europe, whereas our report looks at only the most affected areas of the three most affected countries,". Though it should be noted that Greenpeace is decidedly anti-nuclear power in its stance.

According to the Union Chernobyl, the main organization of liquidators, 10% of the 600,000 liquidators are now dead, and 165,000 disabled.

According to a April 2006 report by the International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear Warfare (IPPNW), entitled "Chernobyl's consequences on health", more than 10,000 people are today affected by thyroid cancer and 50,000 cases are expected. In Europe, the IPPNW claims that 10,000 deformities have been observed in newborns because of Chernobyl's radioactive discharge, with 5,000 deaths among newborn children. They also claim that several hundreds of thousands of the people who worked on the site after the disaster are now sick because of radiation, and tens of thousands are dead.

Controversy over human health effects

The majority of premature deaths caused by Chernobyl are expected to be the result of cancers and other diseases induced by radiation in the decades after the event. This will be the result of a large population (some studies have considered the entire population of Europe) exposed to relatively low doses of radiation increasing the risk of cancer across that population. It will be impossible to attribute specific deaths to Chernobyl, and many estimates indicate that the rate of excess deaths will be so small as to be statistically undetectable, even if the ultimate number of extra premature deaths is large. Furthermore, interpretations of the current health state of exposed populations vary. Therefore, estimates of the ultimate human impact of the disaster have relied on numerical models of the effects of radiation on health. Furthermore, the effects of low-level radiation on human health are not well understood, and so the models used, notably the linear no threshold model, are open to question.

Given these factors, several different studies of Chernobyl's health effects have come up with substantially different conclusions and are the subject of considerable scientific and political controversy. The following section presents some of the major studies on this topic.

The Chernobyl Forum report

In September 2005, a draft summary report by the Chernobyl Forum, comprising a number of UN agencies including the International Atomic Energy Agencymarker (IAEA), the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), other UN bodies and the Governments of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine, put the total predicted number of deaths due to the accident at 4000. This death toll predicted by the WHO included the 47 workers who died of acute radiation syndrome as a direct result of radiation from the disaster and nine children who died from thyroid cancer, in the estimated 4000 excess cancer deaths expected among the 600,000 with the highest levels of exposure. The full version of the WHO health effects report adopted by the UN, published in April 2006, included the prediction of 5000 additional fatalities from significantly contaminated areas in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine and predicted that, in total, 9000 will die from cancer among the 6.9 million most-exposed Soviet citizens. This report is not free of controversy, and has been accused of trying to minimize the consequences of the accident.

The TORCH report

In 2006 German Green Party Member of the European Parliament Rebecca Harms, commissioned two UK scientists for an alternate report (TORCH, The Other Report on CHernobyl) in response to the UN report. The report included areas not covered by the Chernobyl forum report, and also lower radiation doses. It predicted about 30,000 to 60,000 excess cancer deaths and warned that predictions of excess cancer deaths strongly depend on the risk factor used, and urged more research stating that large uncertainties made it difficult to properly assess the full scale of the disaster.


Greenpeace claimed contradictions in the Chernobyl Forum reports, quoting a 1998 WHO study referenced in the 2005 report, which projected 212 dead from 72,000 liquidators. In its report, Greenpeace suggested there will be 270,000 cases of cancer attributable to Chernobyl fallout, and that 93,000 of these will probably be fatal, but state in their report that "The most recently published figures indicate that in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine alone the accident could have resulted in an estimated 200,000 additional deaths in the period between 1990 and 2004." Blake Lee-Harwood, campaigns director at Greenpeace, believes that cancer was likely to be the cause of less than half of the final fatalities and that "intestinal problems, heart and circulation problems, respiratory problems, endocrine problems, and particularly effects on the immune system," will also cause fatalities. However, concern has been expressed about the methods used in compiling the Greenpeace report.

The April 2006 IPPNW report

According to an April 2006 report by the German affiliate of the International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear Warfare (IPPNW), entitled "Health Effects of Chernobyl", more than 10,000 people are today affected by thyroid cancer and 50,000 cases are expected. The report projected tens of thousands dead among the liquidators. In Europe, it alleges that 10,000 deformities have been observed in newborns because of Chernobyl's radioactive discharge, with 5000 deaths among newborn children. They also claimed that several hundreds of thousands of the people who worked on the site after the accident are now sick because of radiation, and tens of thousands are dead.

Other studies and claims

  • The Ukrainian Health Minister claimed in 2006 that more than 2.4 million Ukrainians, including 428,000 children, suffer from health problems related to the catastrophe. Psychological after-effects, as the 2006 UN report pointed out, have also had adverse effects on internally displaced persons.
  • In a recently published study scientists from Forschungszentrum Jülich, Germany, published the “Korma-Report” with data of radiological long-term measurements that were performed between 1998 and 2007 in a region in Belarusmarker that was affected by the Chernobyl accidentmarker. The internal radiation exposure of the inhabitants in a village in Korma County/Belarus caused by the existing radioactive contamination has experienced a significant decrease from a very high level. The external exposure, however, reveals a different picture. Although an overall decrease was observed, the organic constituents of the soil show an increase in contamination. This increase was not observed in soils from cultivated land or gardens. According to the Korma Report the internal dose will decrease to less than 0.2 mSv/a in 2011 and to below 0.1 mSv/a in 2020. Despite this, the cumulative dose will remain significantly higher than “normal” values due to external exposure. Resettlement may even be possible in former prohibited areas provided that people comply with appropriate dietary rules.
  • Another study alleged heightened mortality in Sweden.
  • According to the Union Chernobyl, the main organization of liquidators, 10% of the 600,000 liquidators are now dead, and 165,000 disabled.
  • One study reports increased levels of birth defects in Germany and Finland in the wake of the accident.
  • A change in the human sex ratio at birth in several European countries has been linked to Chernobyl fallout.

  • In the Czech Republic, thyroid cancer has increased significantly after Chernobyl.

  • A report from the European Committee on Radiation Risk (a body sponsored by the European Green Party) claims that the World Health Organization, together with most other international and national health bodies, has marginalized or ignored, perhaps purposely, the terrible consequences of the Chernobyl fallout to protect the vested interests of the nuclear industry.
  • The Abstract of the April 2006 International Agency for Research on Cancer report Estimates of the cancer burden in Europe from radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl accident stated "It is unlikely that the cancer burden from the largest radiological accident to date could be detected by monitoring national cancer statistics. Indeed, results of analyses of time trends in cancer incidence and mortality in Europe do not, at present, indicate any increase in cancer rates – other than of thyroid cancer in the most contaminated regions – that can be clearly attributed to radiation from the Chernobyl accident." However, while undetectable, they estimate, based on the linear no threshold model of cancer effects, that 16,000 excess cancer deaths could be expected from the effects of the Chernobyl accident up to 2065. Their estimates have very wide 95% confidence intervals from 6,700 deaths to 38,000.

  • The application of the linear no threshold model to predict deaths from low levels of exposure to radiation was disputed in a BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) Horizon documentary, broadcast on July 13, 2006. It offered statistical evidence to suggest that there is an exposure threshold of about 200 millisieverts, below which there is no increase in radiation-induced disease. Indeed it went further, reporting research from Professor Ron Chesser of Texas Tech Universitymarker, which suggests that low exposures to radiation can have a protective effect. The program interviewed scientists who believe that the increase in thyroid cancer in the immediate area of the explosion had been over-recorded, and predicted that the estimates for widespread deaths in the long term would be proved wrong. It noted the view of the World Health Organization scientist Dr Mike Rapacholi that, while most cancers can take decades to manifest, leukemia manifests within a decade or so: none of the previously expected peak of leukemia deaths has been found, and none is now expected. Identifying the need to balance the "fear response" in the public's reaction to radiation, the program quoted Dr Peter Boyle, director of the IARC: "Tobacco smoking will cause several thousand times more cancers in the [European] population."
  • Professor Wade Allison of Oxford University (a lecturer in medical physics and particle physics) gave a talk on ionising radiation Nov 24, 2006 in which he gave an approximate figure of 81 cancer deaths from Chernobyl (excluding 28 cases from acute radiation exposure and the thyroid cancer deaths which he regards as "avoidable"). In a closely reasoned argument using statistics from therapeutic radiation, exposure to elevated natural radiation (the presence of radon gas in homes) and the diseases of Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors he demonstrated that the linear no-threshold model should not be applied to low-level exposure in humans, as it ignores the well-known natural repair mechanisms of the body.

French legal action

Since March 2001 400 lawsuits have been filed in France against "X" (the French equivalent of John Doe, an unknown person or company) by the French Association of Thyroid-affected People, including 200 in April 2006. These persons are affected by thyroid cancer or goitres, and have filed lawsuits alleging that the French government, at the time led by Prime Minister Jacques Chirac, had not adequately informed the population of the risks linked to the Chernobyl radioactive fallout. The complaint contrasts the health protection measures put in place in nearby countries (warning against consumption of green vegetables or milk by children and pregnant women) with the relatively high contamination suffered by the east of France and Corsica. Although the 2006 study by the French Institute of Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety said that no clear link could be found between Chernobyl and the increase of thyroid cancers in France, it also stated that papillary thyroid cancer had tripled in the following years.

Comparisons to other radioactivity releases

See also


  1. mSv (milisievert) is a unit of radiation effect in living things, the dose in terms of energy alone is in Gy (Grays) but after a quaility factor is applied (different forms of radiation have different abilities to cause harm to living things) the dose in Sv is calculated. Sv is the modern SI unit which is a replacement of the cgs system unit rem. 1000 mSv is equal to 1 Sv which is equal to 100 rem. It is commonly thought that a 1 Sv whole body dose of radiation has a 5% chance of causing cancer
  2. K. Muck, G. Prohl, I. Likhtarev, L. Kovgan, V. Golikov and J. Zeger, Health Physics, 2002, 82(2), 157-172
  3. K. Muck, G. Prohl, I. Likhtarev, L. Kovgan, V. Golikov and J. Zeger, Health Physics, 2002, 82(2), 173-181
  4. Chernobyl: country by country A - H
  5. (page 3)
  6. Map of radioactive cloud with flash animation, French IRSN (official Institut de Radioprotection et de Sûreté Nucléaire — Institute of Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety)
  7. Chapter IV: Dose estimates, Nuclear Energy Agency, 2002
  8. International Chernobyl Project
  13. "Chernobyl fallout: internal doses to the Norwegian population and the effect of dietary advice", Strand P, Selnaes TD, Boe E, Harbitz O, Andersson-Sorlie A., National Institute of Radiation Hygiene, Osteras, Norway
  16. "Elevated frequency of abnormalities in barn swallows from Chernobyl", in Biology Letters, Volume 3, Number 4 / August 22, 2007
  17. "Did Chernobyl Leave an Eden for Wildlife?", by Henry Fountain, New York Times, August 28, 2007
  21. and joint IAEA/WHO/UNDP press release Chernobyl: The True Scale of the Accident, IAEA/WHO/UNDP, September 5, 2005 (pdf file)
  22. .
  23. TORCH report executive summary, op.cit., p.4
  25. and see also
  26. For full coverage see the IAEA Focus Page (op.cit.) and joint IAEA/WHO/UNDP September 5, 2005 press release Chernobyl: The True Scale of the Accident
  27. WHO Chernobyl report 2006 pdf
  28. Wall Street Journal, 27 April 2006
  29. Dederichs, H.; Pillath, J.; Heuel-Fabianek, B.; Hill, P.; Lennartz, R. (2009): Langzeitbeobachtung der Dosisbelastung der Bevölkerung in radioaktiv kontaminierten Gebieten Weißrusslands - Korma-Studie. Vol. 31, series “Energy & Environment“ by Forschungszentrum Jülich, ISBN 978-3-89336-562-3
  30. Increase of regional total cancer incidence in north Sweden due to the Chernobyl accident?
  31. Eds Busby, C C and Yablokov, A V (2006): Chernobyl: 20 Years On. Green Audit Press, Aberystwyth, UK. ISBN 1-897761-25-2
  32. Abstract of April 2006 IARC report 'Estimates of the cancer burden in Europe from radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl accident'
  33. IARC Press release on the report 'Estimates of the cancer burden in Europe from radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl accident'
  34. Briefing document: Cancer burden in Europe following Chernobyl
  35. "Inside Chernobyl's Sarcophagus" (13 July 1996), Horizon, BBC.
  36. (includes Audio files, with an interview with Chantal Loire, president of the French Association of Thyroid-Affected People, as well as interviews with member of the CRIIRAD

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